The X Factor

Brummell talks to renowned product designer Hutch Hutchison about his new mobile phone brand XOR and why he believes security is the new luxury

Art and Design 18 Jan 2021



One of the first things that strikes you about the new XOR phone – aside from its sleek titanium and leather body and tangible curves – is that it looks, well, like a phone. This may seem like stating the obvious, but consumers have become so accustomed to mobile devices resembling mini tablets and providing multiple services that its primary function has become somewhat lost.

‘Phones, as we call them, are now computers that you talk to,’ agrees product designer Hutch Hutchison. ‘They’re incredible, what they do, but they are utilitarian black slabs – you don’t feel about them in the same way as you did about your little Nokia.’

This throwback to the ubiquitous mobile brand of the late nineties and early noughties makes perfect sense when you know Hutchison’s background. Originally trained as a mechanical engineer, he quickly switched to product design and is known in the industry as the ‘phone guy’ due to his formative years at Nokia.

Hutch Hutchison of XOR
Hutch Hutchison of XOR

Arguably, no market has seen such exponential leaps and bounds in design and technology than the mobile phone sector. In a relatively short space of time, phones have gone from rudimentary oversized bricks to slick miniature computers capable of more than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago.

After honing his skills as a technology specialist at Nokia, Hutchison saw a gap in the market for a more aspirational kind of device. Along with Nokia’s then head of design, Frank Nuovo, Hutchison launched Vertu in 1999, a mobile phone company with its sights firmly set on the luxury sector. These were the kind of devices for A-listers and CEOs; where diamond-encrusted and alligator skin handsets were the norm, and prices were well into the thousands. After leaving Vertu to set up his own design studio, Hutchison found that he was regularly contacted by fellow phone fanatics who had been following his career and wanted to fill the Vertu void.

‘Eventually I was approached by a group of investors who knew Vertu, and they understood that there was a hole in people’s hearts for this kind of product,’ he explains. ‘They already ran a number of huge online businesses, so they weren’t the usual start-ups.’

That was three years ago. And after assembling a crack team of designers, engineers and acoustic specialists – including many former Vertu employees – XOR was born. After the disruption of 2020 saw the launch postponed, XOR Titanium will make its debut this month.

‘The pretext behind Titanium was to address the Vertu market but with a kind of 21st-century pair of eyes,’ Hutchison explains. ‘We wanted to create a brand that was a little more grounded, but also with its own level of flamboyance.’

The XOR Titanium launches this month
The XOR Titanium launches this month

The inaugural model, which is available in four distinctive colourways, is designed and built in Britain. Like Vertu, and as its name suggests, Titanium is fitted with premium materials. These include a stronger-than-diamond sapphire crystal screen, plush leather casing, ceramic, and a lightweight yet durable Grade 5 titanium body.

‘I wanted something that had that ritualistic feel about it,’ says Hutchison. ‘The materials are a pleasure to touch – I wanted something ergonomic.’ But whereas ‘bling’ was in demand in the early 2000s, the modern buyer’s most precious resource is security.

What makes XOR truly unique is its encryption technology. Cyber security is a huge and growing industry, as hackers become more insidious and sophisticated. XOR is Britain’s first mobile phone to use hardware encryption which doesn’t run over an IP or the internet, but rather through its GSM network. The idea is that owners will use their XOR alongside their day-to-day smart phone, and pair it with close friends and family members on their encrypted list. Another technological advancement is XOR’s in-built International Air Quality Standard, which monitors the environment the owner is in and will send out a warning when pollution levels become toxic.

Those who are more technologically minded may have picked up on XOR’s cyber security credentials based on the name alone, which is taken from an encryption algorithm. The logo came before the name, and even this alludes to security, explains Hutchison, as his design was inspired by a traditional protection knot. There are also clues in the lacquer box in which the phone is presented, which can only be opened through cracking a cryptography-inspired puzzle.

Part high-tech, part playful – this is the kind of project that makes Hutchison, the designer, tick. As someone who designs beautiful yet functional objects, he adheres to the self-appointed ethos of ‘engineering art’, when something ‘looks right and is right’.

Essentially, this is the art of creating beautiful yet practical objects that don’t compromise on form or function. Some of those ‘little Nokias’ Hutchison references endured for years, whereas other trendy imitators had short shelf lives. Like a faithful Nokia 3310, Hutchison refers to the XOR Titanium as your ‘little friend’, a phone that the owner trusts and enjoys having on their person.

‘We didn’t want to go into a product that was purely about encryption. It had to be something you could relate to,’ he says. ‘These products we buy where you “treat yourself”; they’re something you have to fall in love with.’

The XOR TITANIUM range starts from £3,000 and is available to order direct from from 18 January 2021.